He was well known because of his crimes. He made a living by robbing others and eluding the law. He was wanted all over the country but try as they did, they could not apprehend him. Then came the fateful day: The robbery was supposed to be an easy operation, a quick hit and an escape. But unknown to him, this was no ordinary day, for the hour had come when scripture was to be fulfilled. The son of God was about to be arrested and sentenced to death by hanging on the cross. With him, two robbers would end up with the death penalty as well, each hanging on their own cross on either side of the King of the Jews. When he was arrested during the botched robbery and handed over to Roman soldiers, it marked the end of a long search for a notorious criminal; it also earned him a place by the side of the crucified Christ.
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43.
I remember when I first heard this story with my friends. We were in secondary school attending a Scripture Union meeting. I still remember our sentiments back then: ‘How lucky this criminal was! To live your life the way you want all the way to the last hour and then with a simple request to Jesus, find a place in paradise!’ How we envied him! And how we all wished we did not have to subject ourselves to all the many ‘thou shalt nots’ and just at the moment of death ask for pardon and jump into paradise.
I have lived several decades since I first heard that story and have even had the opportunity to learn much more from the scriptures for more than 25 years. And the more I contemplate that story, the more I realize how unlucky that robber was! Here is a guy who is going to live in eternity with a God he never made any effort to know personally. He is lucky to get into paradise alright but his experience would have been a million times richer if he had a relationship with the God of paradise before checking in there. Here is how one of the wisest men of all ages put it:
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth,
Before the difficult days come,
And the years draw near when you say,
“I have no pleasure in them”
It is essential to get to know your Creator in your youth, not in your old age; in your early days not in your last days; in your best moments not in your worst ones! Why is this so? Why is Solomon emphasizing this approach? I think the reason is time invested in knowing your Creator compounds the benefits over time. In monetary terms, this is how compounding works – you deposit an amount in an investment instrument that yields a certain amount of interest over a specified period, say 7% a year. At the end of the year, you have the initial deposit plus an interest of 7%. If you do not withdraw either of these, then over the subsequent years, you earn interest on the initial (principal) amount as well as on the first interest earned. In other words, compound interest occurs when interest earns interest. Libby Kane writing for Business Insider illustrated the incredible power of compound interest with this graph from JP Morgan Asset Management:
It shows the investing activities of 3 individuals (Susan, Bill, and Chris) in an instrument yielding a modest 7% return per year. Susan starts investing $5,000 every year from age 25 years old and stops doing so after only 10 years, when she is 35 years old. In total, she invested $50,000. Over the next 30 years, she makes no additional investment but ends up with a little over $602,000 in her portfolio by the time she is 65 years old.
Next is Bill who started his investments 10 years later than Susan at age 35 years old, just when Susan stopped additional investments. Over the next 30 years, Bill invests the same $5,000 every year until he turns 65 years. In total, he invested $150,000 and ended up with $540,741 (>$60,000 less than Susan). Note that Bill has contributed 3 times as much as Susan, but he never caught up with her because he started 10 years later!
But here comes Chris, who like Susan, started at age 25 investing $5,000 every year till he is 65 years old. He ends up with a handsome $1,142,811 after investing a total of $200,000.
Here are the learning points about compound interest:
What has this got to do with God? Everything! Solomon’s advice is to remember your creator in the days of your youth. Compound interest teaches us why. The earlier you start making inputs into having a relationship with Him, the better you get to know Him in your latter years. The earlier you get to know Him, the greater the benefits and the sooner you get to enjoy the benefits. Best of all, you get to check into paradise with a good chunk of Him in your heart! Do not wish to be like that robber dying on the cross; he lost the opportunity of a lifetime to know Him before checking into paradise.
Frank is a cardiothoracic surgeon practicing in Ghana. His work involves mainly pediatric cardiac surgery. Apart from children's health, he's also passionate about lifestyle modifications to promote health.